Behavioral change activities to reduce air pollution in Skopje
March 22, 2023
UNDP North Macedonia and its AccLab team embarked on a journey to understand how using behavioral sciences and experiments (nudges) can help us tackle air pollution in the City of Skopje. This blog post consists of two parts.
- Behavioral science - one way towards a smarter policy action to reduce air pollution!
- Behavior change activities to reduce air pollution in Skopje
Behavioral change activities to reduce air pollution in Skopje
Under the project Tackling Air Pollution in Skopje - which was implemented by UNDP North Macedonia in partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning and the City of Skopje, and financed by Sweden - behavioral nudges were used to assist citizens in engaging in more pro-environmental behaviors. For this purpose, UNDP, in collaboration with four civil society organizations (CSOs), tested whether behavior-changing experiments could be a way to nudge citizens to lean towards such behavioral practices that will do away with air pollution. Even though the topic of behavior was new to the CSOs, they had established great community outreach and implemented innovative approaches to solve issues related to air pollution in their communities.
Through an open call, four local projects were selected to address air pollution in different ways. To strengthen all four teams’ capacity to implement a behavioral science approach, the UNDP brought in a behavioral change consultant. The capacity building was organized into learning labs that covered different thematic areas that would guide and help the CSOs to improve their project concepts. The thematic areas were based on a design process for behavioral change, The Behavioral Journey, including methods and tools drawing from psychology, design, and economics with the aim to create a more human-centered design. All CSOs worked together with the external expert and developed their projects to make them more behavioral science focused.
Learnings and recommendations for future policies
All project’s solutions were different but with the same goal- to move towards reducing air pollution in Skopje. One team did research on providing better policy recommendations, another one conducted a small-scale energy saving field experiment with private households, a third one carried out a bike- and- walking challenge to motivate car-abandoning practices, while a fourth one tested an already existing model of community monitoring. Together, the four behavioral change projects managed to achieve the following:
- by introducing a behavioral challenge, they managed to get more citizens to walk and ride a bike instead of take the car for shorter distances. More information about the project can be found here.
- change habits in terms of how households used electrical appliances and reduce energy consumption by 7%. More information about the project can be found here.
- raise community awareness and mobilize citizens to participate in educational activities about the air pollution effects, and to apply for energy efficient subsidies for domestic greener heating systems. More information about the project can be found here.
- create different “Eco and energy efficient profiles” of people living in Skopje that will help future policy makers towards a more human-centric approach in the development of energy policies, laws, regulations, and subsidies for the citizens in Skopje. More information about the project can be found here.
All projects together have led to various insights and recommendations that can be useful for practitioners and policymakers in their future work towards air pollution reduction. The below mentioned are some of them:
- Infrastructure is key
One crucial factor for creating behavioral change is to simplify the behavior in the physical environment. If the citizens don’t have the opportunity (infrastructure) to engage in such behavior, the likelihood of behavior taking hold decreases dramatically. The most important step towards a change in, for example, travel behaviors is to enhance the opportunity to ride a bike and walk safely in the city. Future policymakers, city planners, and politicians should stop planning the city to accommodate automobile traffic, but facilitate bike-centered infrastructure and enable more green areas.
- Work from a bottom-up perspective
When devising policies that contribute to eco-friendly citizens’ actions, one should not consider "one size fits all" single solutions but take into account specific target groups. Moreover, there should be preconditions to be met through other mechanisms, for example socio-economic components, that will lend indirect support to change. Policies that aim to secure more pro-environmental behaviors need to look at citizens' capability, opportunity, and motivation to act more sustainably in any specific context.
- Test what works and share between multiple stakeholders
In order to verify whether different nudges are applicable, and whether they can help other practitioners in their work to develop more behavior-oriented solutions that would then lead to less polluting behaviors, testing should be done on a larger scale, preferably together with multiple stakeholders. One way to do this is to create open-source solutions and share them with others.
- There are no “quick fixes” to long-term behavioral change
It is important to acknowledge that all behavioral interventions should be seen as one small step in the right direction, since many pro-environmental behaviors are basically habits. And a habit is a behavior that one may keep practicing forever. It is important that the behavior we want to see changed is an easy shift in a person’s mind. If the behavior presents a positive experience for the individual, for example if it saves money and improves one’s health, it may prove to be one of the ways to achieve a more intrinsic motivation for a long-term change.
After this pilot, the general recommendation is to create a Behavioral Change Program/ Learning platform for future calls for behavioral change activities and projects. This will allow UNDP to more systematically continue its work, to support more projects across the country, to carry out nudge(s) and behavioral experiment(s), and unite multiple stakeholders in collaboration and learning from one another what works. In the long run, this model may accelerate a global green behavioral movement to reduce air pollution. However, a lot still remains to be discovered, and as one of the CSOs states in their final report:
“Air pollution is a complex issue that requires a multi-stakeholder approach in understanding and creating long-term solutions.”
Facts about nudging
Nudging is a concept and a working field within Behavioral economics.
Nudging was launched for the first time in the book Nudge: Improving Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2008), by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, professors of economics and law respectively. Nudging aims to help individuals make better decisions by simplifying decision-making situations. Nudging uses knowledge about human behavior to create cost-effective and simple solutions that alter the complex situation regarding decisions, and is used within different areas of society to facilitate desirable behaviors.
For more information contact: UNDP Project manager at email@example.com, UNDP Accelaration Lab Head on Explaration at firstname.lastname@example.org and Behavior Change Consultant at email@example.com